The Kia Optima Is Dead — Long Live The 2021 Kia K5 As Its Sharper, Sleeker Replacement

A high-performance K5 GT model will be available this fall

Kia officially unveiled its next-generation midsize sedan for the U.S. market Tuesday, but it’s not the “Optima” you may have come to expect. Instead, the 2021 Kia K5 ditches the nameplate the automaker’s used since 2000 to sell its Toyota Camry competitor, and this fifth-generation model follows the naming convention that debuted in South Korea last November. If you saw the new car back then, then you won’t experience any shocks here in the styling department. However, now we at least have more specs available for the U.S.-bound version.

The 2021 Kia K5 sports all-new exterior design, a revised interior and a high-performance GT model. [Photos: Kia]

Kicking off with styling, the 2021 Kia K5 is a much more aggressive, angrier looking sedan than the model it replaces. The so-called “tiger face” has been redesigned, with a more upright grille and sharp LED headlights. The “heart beat” daytime running lights actually cut back into the fenders along the hood line, which is similar to what Hyundai did with its new Sonata to make it more distinctive. Here, though, the Kia takes a sportier approach, ad that carries through to the roofline. The side profile takes on a broader shoulder line which gives the car a bit more presence, and the K5 continues with more of a swooping rear roofline to give it more of a sportback look than a more traditional sedan like the Toyota Camry.

Longer, wider, lower

A common design trend these days is to make new models longer, wider and lower than the cars that came before, and the 2021 Kia K5 is no exception. The new K5 rides on the brand’s all new N3 platform, with a 1.8-inch longer wheelbase to the old Optima. It’s also two inches longer in overall length, one inch wider, and 0.8 inches shorter in height.

Around the back, you do still get a regular trunk, although with a new taillight design. Now, there’s a slimmer assembly with “dash”-style LEDs stretching the full width of the trunk lid.

Inside, the 2021 Kia K5 isn’t radically different to the old Optima, but it does get notable changes in the infotainment area. New 8.0 or 10.25-inch screens are available depending on which model you buy, and you get a flat-bottom sport steering wheel on the GT-Line and high-performance GT model.

The new infotainment system sits prominently stop the new center stack, while the rest of the interior has also been updated.

All-new powertrains

On the standard 2021 Kia K5 models, you get 1.6-liter turbocharged engine with 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same displacement as the turbocharged unit that was in the old Optima, though this time it’s part of the company’s new “Smartstream” engine lineup. This engine comes in all models except the performance-oriented GT, and comes mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

All-wheel drive is also available on LXS and GT-Line models, though those versions will arrive later this year. It’s a front-drive biased system, though it does give Kia an opportunity to compete against the growing range of AWD sedans, including the Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry and Subaru Legacy.

At the top end of the range, there’s the new 2021 Kia K5 GT. Like the Hyundai Sonata N Line, it packs a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine. Instead of a mere 180 horsepower, this engine bumps the figure up to 290 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque. That technically gives Kia best-in-class torque among its rivals, as the Mazda6 only has 310 lb-ft of torque.

While the standard models come with 16-, 18- or 19-inch wheel options, the K5 GT sports 19-inch wheels on Pirelli P-Zero tires. That coupled with the revised suspension geometry and more rigid body ought to make the new K5 competitive against sharp-handling cars like the Mazda6 and powerful ones like the Toyota Camry TRD.

The 2021 Kia K5 is loaded with technology

For the past few years, Hyundai and Kia have really brought their best to in-car technology. The 2021 Kia K5 is just the latest to get the treatment, sporting everything from advance frontal collision avoidance with pedestrian and cyclist detection to “Safe Exit Assist”, which prevents rear passengers from opening the door if the car detects oncoming traffic.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability are also available. However, that functionality is not available with the larger 10.25-inch infotainment screen, strangely. Improved wireless smartphone charging with faster charging rates and better phone cooling is also available. The Kia K5’s smart key gets some improvements as well, including automatic trunk opening when you’re near the car and automatic climate control with the remote start feature.

Driver assistance tech like navigation-assisted Smart Cruise Control, Blind Spot Collision Avoidance and Parking Distance Warning are also available. When it comes to creature comforts, the 2021 Kia K5 has an available 12-speaker Bose surround premium sound system as an option.

Trims and availability

Pricing for the 2021 Kia K5 isn’t available yet, but should be announced in the coming weeks closer to launch. It’s available in five trim levels, including the performance GT, with the lower four getting the smaller 1.6-liter engine. Similar to Kia’s other models, there’s the LX on the entry-level end of the spectrum. From there, you go up through the LXS and GT-Line (both available with all-wheel drive). The more luxurious EX tops out the K5’s list of features, before you get into the K5 GT.

As with the all-wheel drive models, the GT version will be available this fall.